The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an indeterminate number of deaths and how many days it will take to get the situation under control is indeterminable.

Indeterminate and indeterminable are the words of English that are not used commonly. Both terms are as confusing as they sound. Both are adjectives and contain the root ‘determine’ which means to establish something. The only difference is the suffix “able”. You can understand it in the following way:

Indeterminate is “undefined or unfixed”, while indeterminable is “not able to define or unable to fix”.

Here’s an example to showcase their meanings:

Indeterminate number of meteors hit the earth recently. It is indeterminable when the next group of meteors will bombard the earth with such destructive power.

Let’s have a look at the exact definitions and some cases to make both terms clearer.

Indeterminate vs indeterminable – definitions, meanings and example sentences

Definition of indeterminate

Indeterminate is an adjective that is pronounced as “in-de-ter-mi-nate”. Indeterminate is defined as something unknown or not predefined. The word “indeterminate” was derived from the Latin word “indeterminatus” and was first used in the early seventeenth century. This word was used extensively during the mid-1900s.

Example sentences of indeterminate

  • The portrait of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is famous worldwide due to its indeterminate facial expression.

Mona Lisa’s painting is famous because of its expressions. Some say that she is smiling while others say that she’s sad. This duality in her nature is baffling and you can say she has indeterminate expressions.

  • ‘The expiry date of these food items is indeterminate, hence we cannot allow you to ship them from here,’ the customs officer announced.

In this sentence, the expiry date of food items was unknown, hence they were not allowed to be moved out of the country by the customs officer who was inspecting them.

  • According to research, our universe is expanding and is heading in an indeterminate direction.

Scientists discovered that our universe is expanding continuously and is moving towards an unknown center at a fixed speed. Here, indeterminate gives the meaning of “unknown”.

Definition of Indeterminable

Indeterminable means inability to decide, unable to fix something, or uncertain in nature of something. There should be no difficulty in the pronunciation as it is pronounced as “in-de-ter-min-able”.  Indeterminable is taken from the Latin root word “indeterminabilis” and was used for the first time in the late fifteenth century. This word was used broadly in the early 1900s. Indeterminable has 3 root words; “in” means “not”, “determine” means “to establish/explain/ascertain something”, and “able” means “ability/capability”. Simply put, indeterminable is not having the ability to explain something.

Example sentences of indeterminable

  • ‘There is an indeterminable number of corpses in the ground,’ said the lieutenant after the war.

The ground was full with dozens of dead bodies of soldiers who were killed in skirmish between two countries. Indeterminable here shows that the lieutenant was unable to count all the dead soldiers.

  • Elijah had been roaming in the murky environment of Pluto for an indeterminable amount of time and the surrounding air had affected him so much that it became impossible to tell who he was.

Elijah stayed in the environment of Pluto for an unknown period of time without covering his face. Hence, it became difficult for others to recognize him.

  • She was taken to the hospital because she fainted after drinking an indeterminable amount of Vodka.

In this sentence, indeterminable was used in the meaning of an unknowable amount. When the girl drank a large amount of Vodka, she got admitted to the hospital.

The concept of both words is very easy to grasp. Although these terms can be used interchangeably, it is not recommended as both words have considerably distinct meanings. There’s a little trick here to understand and remember the terms. Remember the suffix “able” at the end of indeterminable, you can associate it with incapable and remember that something is indeterminable when you are incapable to define it. Finally, something indeterminate is simply undefined.